It was a typical winter day in December — slightly hazy with sunlight filtering in through the tall neem, gulmohar, and mango trees lining the street — when my mother, my niece, and I took an auto rickshaw to visit a women’s center where my mother has volunteered for many years to teach sewing to handicapped women.

Like its name, Ashadeep (Hope-Light) is a beacon of hope for disabled women and children in Nagpur, India. In a country of 1.4 billion people, the health and wellness of women and children is often neglected; in particular, the needs of disabled women and children are not prioritized. The center is spearheaded by Mrs. Pratima N. Shastri, who was a professor of Food Technology at a local college. The center includes a rehabilitation center for disabled women and children and a nutrition rehabilitation center for women and children.

Our auto rickshaw navigated the narrow street, dodging a stray dog and a cow, bicycles and cars. The apartment building overlooks a canal (now misused as a dumping ground for plastic products and garbage), and as we walked up a flight of stairs, the smells of roasting grains and lentils teased my nostrils. We took off our chappals (flip flops) by the main door, stepped onto the cold terrazzo floor of the flat, and were greeted by Mrs. Shastri, who led us to her office (one of the bedrooms in the flat). I glanced into the kitchen and was assailed by the same delightful smell of roasting grains. As we sat down, we were offered a glass of water (traditional custom in India).

Mrs. Pratima N. Shastri

I am fascinated by the work done by these women, not only because of their sustainable practices — like the use of recycled materials such as saris, jute bags, etc. to make bags and other products — but because of their determination to stand on their own two feet, despite overwhelming pressures and lack of resources; and, they manage it all with a smiling face! Over a cup of steaming masala chai, Mrs. Shastri recounted her experiences, challenges, and successes in running a non-governmental organization for disabled women and children.

During my visit I met women who have not only overcome tremendous societal barriers, but they are now giving back to the center. One of them, Neera Deshmukh, works as an accountant for the center, and Purnima Reke is the head cook at the center, responsible for making and overseeing the process for the pre-made mixes, biscuits, and dry mix chutneys.

IMG_0994The center was established in 1993 by Mrs. Shastri’s mother, Shrimati Usha Sant, and focused on the welfare of disabled women and children. The center has come a long way under Mrs. Shastri’s leadership, and it now focuses on 2 main issues:


1. The disabled persons rehabilitation center provides medical help and resources (eye glasses, medicines, and basic health advice), financial help (travel and food money to needy students), crutches, walkers, and educational support. The workshop provides those in need with opportunities by teaching them to sew (purses, aprons, travel bags, mobile cases, lunch bags, etc.) and to make paper bags from recycled newspapers. The products are sold at local craft shows, and the proceeds benefit the center. Their latest project helps provide support to visually challenged students for reading, writing, and test taking.


2. The nutrition center’s slogan is “Think Global, Eat Local,” and it’s committed to promoting information on good nutrition habits and promoting pre-made nutritious food mixes without additives, which focus on combining local food culture and indigenous resources while being responsible global citizens. Modern life in India includes a mall culture with a focus on pre-prepared foods that are full of preservatives and have little to no food value.


Mrs. Shastri would welcome interns interested in women and children’s health and nutrition. Please write to her at:

Apanga Mahila Bal Vikas Sanstha

1-A, Canal Road, Ramdaspeth

Nagpur 440010

Tel: 91.712.242 0338, 9823362161, 9730278204

Email: [email protected]

Video 1 shows the handmade purses, aprons, travel bags, mobile cases, lunch bags, etc. made by the women at the center.
Video 2 shows the kitchen and the pre-made mixes and cookies made by the women at the center for local markets.

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